Issues of Theosophical History:
Description of Contents

By the Editor: Dr. James Santucci

 

Vol. XIV Issues 1-2 January-April 2008
Vol. XIV Issues 3-4 July-October 2010

Back to Past Issues Description of Contents INDEX

 

Vol. XIV, No. 1-2(January-April 2008)

A Note on the Journal’s Date and the Proper Subject of Theosophical History

Over the past few months, a few correspondents have questioned whether the past few issues of the journal were misdated as 2007 rather than 2008. As regular readers are aware, Theosophical History has been behind schedule, a situation due to a number of reasons, among which include my duties as Chair of the Department of Comparative Religion along with a heavy teaching assignment. Ordinarily, this is not of any major significance apropos the contents of the journal, at least not until now. Rather than report the passing of the noted Theosophical biographer Jean Overton Fuller on April 8, 2009 in the appropriately-numbered issue (June 2009), which will not be published until sometime in 2010, the news demands immediate publication. There is another reason for this announcement. The main article, “Jean Overton Fuller, Master Narayan, and the Krishnamurti-Scott-Anrias Issue,” is largely a reaction to Miss Fuller’s research both in her biography, Krishnamurti and the Wind: An Integral Biography, and her earlier examination of Cyril Scott, Cyril Scott and A Hidden School. The correspondence that ensued between her and Mr. Schuller culminated in a final letter, dated 21 August 2006, in which Miss Fuller declared her own position on this topic. It is more appropriate, however, to include this letter and Mr. Schuller’s response in a later issue.

* * *

The Passing of Jean Overton Fuller

As mentioned, Jean Overton Fuller passed away on April 8, 2009. The obituary, written by her long-time collaborator Timothy d’Arch Smith, discusses Ms Fuller’s remarkable life, beginning with early childhood experiences, her experience as a stage actor during her youth, her role as poet and biographer, and her friendship with Noor Inayat Khan, the British Special Operations Executive agent during the Second World War who was captured and executed at Dachau. Ms Fuller’s friendship with Noor led her to write Ms Khan’s biography, Madeleine, which was first published in 1952. These items are detailed in Mr. d’Arch Smith’s obituary as also in Ms Fuller’s autobiography, Driven to It. Of special interest for me, however, is her relationship to Theosophical History. Her interest and participation in establishing Theosophical History was greater than I had previously thought, and for the continued support she has given over the years she richly deserves our praise and gratitude. To quote Ms Fuller’s autobiography:

A Theosophical acquaintance of mine, Leslie Price, had floated the idea of a magazine devoted to Theosophical history and this had fruited in a quarterly of that title, Theosophical History [in 1985]. In July [1986] a Conference was arranged in connection with it and he invited me to be one of the speakers. My talk was on the Saturday, with Leslie in the chair. I gave a foretaste of my coming biography of Blavatsky [Blavatsky and Her Masters], concentrating on some aspects of the Coulomb affair [346]

Ms Fuller continued to support the journal over the years, contributing on a regular basis from the very first issue (Jan. 1985). Her most significant contributions, however, were the two publications in the Theosophical History Occasional Paper Series: Joan Grant: Winged Pharaoh (Vol. II) and Cyril Scott and A Hidden School: Towards The Peeling Of An Onion (Vol. VII).

Ms Fuller was a respected Theosophical commentator who led a very productive literary life, and for that she will be fondly remembered by her friends and colleagues.

* * *

In This Issue

Govert Schuller’s article “Jean Overton Fuller, Master Narayan, and the Krishnamurti-Scott-Anrias Issue” is unlike most past articles appearing in this journal, mainly because it does not conform to its usual historical subject matter. This article is about the identification of a Master, in this case Narayan, who is generally not mentioned in most academic references to Masters. Just who is Narayan? Is he identified with two yogis, Tiravala and Nagaratnaswami, as Jean Overton Fuller contends? Why is this important? The issue surrounds Krishnamurti’s intended role as World Teacher and what was written about him by two “Theosophically-minded” writers, Cyril Scott and David Anrias, in two books written in the early 1930s, The Initiate in the Dark Cycle and Through the Eyes of the Masters. Since both Scott and Anrias took a negative view of Krishnamurti, a view based upon a Master’s opinion communicated to Anrias, then the question must be raised: “Who was the Master?” What proceeds is a complicated story that is given in great detail by Mr. Schuller. This topic alone will certainly raise questions from non-Theosophical historians as also the methodology employed. For one, it may be objected that this is not a proper topic for an academic study since Masters are presumed by many of the more sceptical historians to be fictional characters invented by H. P. Blavatsky. Second, Schuller incorporates his beliefs into the study. Third, the format of the study may appear to be theological in nature, not academic in scope.

The article requires a few observations apropos Theosophical studies. While some readers may not be convinced that the subject of this article does not fall within the scope of legitimate academic study, Mr. Schuller addresses this argument by employing academic sources that reject such reductionist approaches. Most academicians today discuss Theosophical topics from either sociological or historical perspectives. This is understandable since both are empirical in kind, with the former primarily data-based and statistical and the latter based upon the written record. It is true that Mr. Schuller takes the position that Cyril Scott and David Anrias “were the chosen vehicles of the Masters to make their assessment of Krishnamurti known,” an assessment, incidentally, that is negative. If this were the central focus of investigation, then the article would be inappropriate for this journal. The main thrust of the article, however, is the identification of the Master Narayan based upon Theosophical accounts, including those of H.P. Blavatsky, H.S. Olcott, Ernest Wood, and co-authors Scott and Anrias. Mr. Schuller is careful in his examination of the written sources, allowing him to make reasoned judgments on the evidence presented. What I look for in investigative articles is the author’s command of the subject matter, the comprehensiveness and command of the primary and secondary material, the evaluative quality of the conclusions, and the honesty of the author. Regarding the last point, if investigators are relatively free of an ideological stance, their personal beliefs are irrelevant; if they have personal beliefs and opinions that are freely admitted, however, the value of their work rests on the cogency and breath of their research and conclusions. What is important in this whole matter is whether the conclusions are based upon the evidence uncovered, which must be comprehensive and not selective, and whether their conclusions are properly derived from the evidence and not forced to conform to a predetermined conclusion.

It is my opinion that Mr. Schuller succeeds in this study. Rather than ignoring a vast swath of Theosophical literature as not fitting for academic study because it is dissociated from empirical reality, this article points to the possibility that such studies can be proper subjects for academic research. This article is not the first to discuss such topics in an academic manner. I also consider K. Paul Johnson’s two books, The Masters Revealed and Initiates of Theosophical Masters, to be models for such studies. I do not expect many studies of this sort, but if executed in the manner described above, they will be welcomed.

The second offering is Leslie Price’s communication, “A Theosophical Scientist,” which mentions the recent publication of William H. Brock’s William Crookes and the Commercialization of Science. Mr. Price adds to the value of the biography by clarifying some of Brock’s observations pertinent to Theosophy.
Finally, mention is made of the most recent study on the Theosophical movement in the form of a Ph.D. dissertation, The Theosophical Revival in Denmark, written by René Dybdal Pedersen. Mr. Pedersen passed his oral defense dissertation at the University of Aarhus in June 2009 and has since been awarded the Ph.D.

 

* * * * *

 

Vol. XIV, No. 3-4 (July-October 2010)

Revised Date of the Current Issue


Due to circumstances beyond my control, the publication of Theosophical History has fallen well behind schedule. Although the last issue (Vol. XIV, No. 1-2) was dated January-April 2008, it is no longer reasonable to continue dating future issues with the years 2008 and 2009. Instead, I have decided to retain the Volume and Issue numbers but to keep the current year of publication. Therefore, this issue (Vol. XIV, No. 3-4) will be dated July-October 2010 rather than 2008. The change will not affect subscriptions since it is the Volume and Issue numbers that determine the period of subscription. I assure the readers that their subscriptions guarantee receipt of an equal number of issues for either the one or two-year rates.

* * *

In This Issue

Like Vol. XIV, no. 1-2, the current publication is a double issue in order to accommodate the length of the main article, “Did Krishnamurti Write At the Feet of the Master.” This article discusses a major controversy in Theosophical history involving a supposed undertaking of J. Krishnamurti during his early teen years. Since Krishnamurti was the central figure in the Adyar Theosophical Society during the years 1909 through 1929, any controversy involving the Krishnmurti’s abilities, achievements, and vision are bound to have repercussions not only on his legacy but also on his benefactors and patrons within The Theosophical Society. The significance of the article is determined not only by the subject matter but also due to the efforts of its author, Dr. S. Lloyd Williams. It is a study that took over fourteen years to complete, begun during the period 1993 and 2001when the Krishnamurti foundation of America retained Dr. Williams to compile an edition of Krishnamurti’s complete early works. The outcome of this study is the conclusion that Krishnamurti was indeed the author of At the Feet of the Master. The assertion that C.W. Leadbeater was the actual author or that the text was the work of the editors are denied as baseless. The arguments presented by Dr. Williams are compelling, but I suspect that this controversy might be somewhat comparable to the controversy revolving around the relationship of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. For many, the evidence, no matter how compelling, may be overruled by what one chooses to believe to be true. Indeed, ideology more often than not supersedes truth or the rule of reason.

The issue of J. Krishnamurti’s authorship of At the Feet of the Master is a legitimate academic topic. How he came to compose this work is problematic since it invites speculation that might lead to a conclusion that surely will be rejected by academia as inappropriate. On page 86, Dr. Williams writes that Krishnamurti may have “learned precepts from Master KH on the astral plane during sleep and then wrote them down when he woke up” (p. 86). This is an explanation perfectly appropriate in Theosophical circles, but certainly not in the confines of the academy because it is a question of accepting an axiomatic metaphysical explanation not in conformity with the methodology of agnosis accepted by the academy.

I mention this only to acknowledge that I am aware of potential difficulties this assertion may generate, but in the context of the article as a whole it is a minor diversion that will not, or at least should not, cause much difficulty, especially in light of the considerable evidence presented by the author.

This same situation occurred in the last issue involving the opinion of Govert Schuller in his article, “Jean Overton Fuller, Master Narayan, and the Krihnamurti-Scott-Anrias Issue.” My observations on Mr. Schuller’s assertion that Cyril Scott and David Anrias “were the chosen vehicles of the Masters” deserve repeating: “What I look for in investigative articles is the author’s command of the subject matter, the comprehensiveess and command of the primary and secondary material, the evaluative quality of the conclusions, and honesty of the author.” Both articles focus on issues that have little or nothing to do with the passing observations of the authors regarding the “vehicles of the Masters” (Schuller) or the mention of “Master KH on the astral plane” (Williams). The reader may ignore such intended editorial inclusions in much the same way as one may ignore uncorrected infractions of the text. In my opinion, this article presents the most exhaustive study on the topic and deserves our careful attention. A passing statement that was not intended to be indicative of the author’s own theory of Krishnamurti’s contribution should not cause the reader any unease about Dr. Williams’ own credentials as a Krishnamurti scholar.

Dr. Williams’ interest in Krishnamurti and Theosophy can be traced through his father, Jonathan Williams to his grandfather, Samuel Walter Williams, who was President of the Los Angeles Lodge of The Theosophical Society in the 1930s and a founding trustee of both the Ojai Star Institute (forerunner to Krishnamurti Writings, Incorporated) and the Besant-created Happy Valley Foundation in California. His professional work, however, is in psychology. Dr. Williams received his Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University in California in 1983. He completed his post-doctoral study in Clinical Research in Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, School of Medicine from 1982 until 1984. From 1984 to 2001 he taught psychology at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Since 2005 Dr. Williams has been Visiting Scientist in the Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, University of Basel, Switzerland. His research on phobias and anxiety has been published in scientific journals topic. How he came to compose this work is problematic since it invites speculation that might lead to a conclusion that surely will be rejected by academia as inappropriate. On page 86, Dr. Williams writes that Krishnamurti may have “learned precepts from Master KH on the astral plane during sleep and then wrote them down when he woke up” (p. 86). This is an explanation perfectly appropriate in Theosophical circles, but certainly not in the confines of the academy because it is a question of accepting an axiomatic metaphysical explanation not in conformity with the methodology of agnosis accepted by the academy.

I mention this only to acknowledge that I am aware of potential difficulties this assertion may generate, but in the context of the article as a whole it is a minor diversion that will not, or at least should not, cause much difficulty, especially in light of the considerable evidence presented by the author.
This same situation occurred in the last issue involving the opinion of Govert Schuller in his article, “Jean Overton Fuller, Master Narayan, and the Krihnamurti-Scott-Anrias Issue.” My observations on Mr. Schuller’s assertion that Cyril Scott and David Anrias “were the chosen vehicles of the Masters” deserve repeating: “What I look for in investigative articles is the author’s command of the subject matter, the comprehensiveess and command of the primary and secondary material, the evaluative quality of the conclusions, and honesty of the author.” Both articles focus on issues that have little or nothing to do with the passing observations of the authors regarding the “vehicles of the Masters” (Schuller) or the mention of “Master KH on the astral plane” (Williams). The reader may ignore such intended editorial inclusions in much the same way as one may ignore uncorrected infractions of the text. In my opinion, this article presents the most exhaustive study on the topic and deserves our careful attention. A passing statement that was not intended to be indicative of the author’s own theory of Krishnamurti’s contribution should not cause the reader any unease about Dr. Williams’ own credentials as a Krishnamurti scholar.

Dr. Williams’ interest in Krishnamurti and Theosophy can be traced through his father, Jonathan Williams to his grandfather, Samuel Walter Williams, who was President of the Los Angeles Lodge of The Theosophical Society in the 1930s and a founding trustee of both the Ojai Star Institute (forerunner to Krishnamurti Writings, Incorporated) and the Besant-created Happy Valley Foundation in California. His professional work, however, is in psychology. Dr. Williams received his Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University in California in 1983. He completed his post-doctoral study in Clinical Research in Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, School of Medicine from 1982 until 1984. From 1984 to 2001 he taught psychology at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Since 2005 Dr. Williams has been Visiting Scientist in the Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, University of Basel, Switzerland. His research on phobias and anxiety has been published in scientific journals and in chapters in scholarly books.

The following abstract of the article, written by Dr. Williams, illustrates effectively the thesis of his article:

The little book At the Feet of the Master, published in 1910, claimed J. Krishnamurti wrote it as a probationer for initiation, thus at age 14 in 1909. But Subrahmanyam, a Theosophist and angry opponent of Krishnamurti’s World Teacher mission, claimed that Krishnamurti privately confessed the book a forgery. Subrahmanyam’s uncorroborated hearsay was deceptively amplified by Ernest Wood in 1936. It was recklessly re-amplified by Arthur Nethercott in 1963. The alleged confession now dominates the book’s history. But accusers never state when, where, nor how the forgery was carried out, nor what led Krishnamurti to support it. They disagree whether the forger was Annie Besant or C. W. Leadbeater. And only “junk” evidence (hearsay, gossip, and suspicions) ever backed the accusation. Junk evidence makes junk history. For over 20 years Krishnamurti promoted the book as his basic testament. He published the book as his own. Krishnamurti claimed countless times in public that he wrote it. Six eyewitnesses agreed. No witness ever reported an act of plagiarism, dictation, or forgery. Yet many believe the forgery myth. Some believe because it symbolically severs Krishnamurti from Theosophy. Others believe because it destroys Krishnamurti’s integrity. But bad history is bad philosophy. J. Krishnamurti wrote At the Feet of the Master.


* * *

Besides Dr. Williams’ contribution, other entries in this issue include Govert Schuller’s “Response to Jean Overton Fuller” and Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s review of Anthroposophie in Deutschland: Theosophische Weltanschauung und gesellschaftliche Praxis 1884-1945. Mr. Schuller’s communication recognizes the interest in the subject of Krishnamurti and the masters and so sought her input in the matter. The resulting discussion, it is hoped, will increase readers’ understanding of Mr. Schuller’s article, which appeared in the last issue.

Dr. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s review discusses perhaps the most important Theosophical historical work from the latter part of the 20th century, Dr. Helmut Zander’s Anthroposophie in Deutschland: Theosophische Weltanschauung und gesellschaftliche Praxis 1884–1945. This two-volume work is important because it presents for the first time a comprehensive study of both Theosophy and Anthroposophy, mainly through an examination of Rudolf Steiner’s intellectual history. Histories of the Theosophical societies generally cover the English-speaking world, so it is clear that this book complements such previously published works. Dr. Zander’s book clearly complements earlier studies due to its detailed account of German Theosophy, a subject which alone covers 435 pages, so it is far from being simply a cursory summary of the movement in Germany. Furthermore, Rudolf Steiner’s “Intellectual journey” is investigated at great length, as also his leadership of German Theosophy from 1902 to 1911. For those unable to read German, the book review will probably be the only introduction into this topic, but for scholars of Theosophy it is a book that cannot be ignored.

* * * * *